Many of us have seen, or at least heard of millipedes. They are closely related to insects, but while insects have only six legs, millipedes have two pairs of jointed legs on each of the many segments of their long slender bodies. Fossil evidence indicates that these animals first appeared about four hundred million years ago. They were among the first animals on Earth to live on land and breathe oxygen from the air.
Today, biologists know of twelve thousand different species of millipedes. Seventy of those species are found on every continent except Antarctica. The name ‘millipede’ is derived from Latin, and means ‘one thousand feet’. But, the millipede’s name has never really seemed true, because despite all those species, none with more than seven hundred and fifty legs had ever been found.
In 2021 a team of biologists reported their discovery of the first millipede ever to live up to its name, by actually having more than one thousand feet. The researchers were studying the environmental effects of mining in Western Australia. They discovered the new species almost two hundred feet underground at the bottom of a drill hole. The animal had one thousand, three hundred and six legs—the most ever seen in any animal. The pale, cream-colored millipede had no eyes, and a drill bit shaped head—all adaptations to its deep underground lifestyle.They named the species Eumillipes persephone. Eumillipes means ‘true thousand footed’, and Persphone is the Greek goddess of the underworld. But, the researchers are worried about the animal’s future, since the habitat they studied is threatened by encroaching mining operations.